39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” -Luke 1:39-45
For the first time since we started walking through this Advent season, we're finally turning our attention to Mary. So far it's been the stories of Elizabeth and Zechariah. Not that I mind. Even in the dark time of waiting — this Advent — I have new persective by beginning a familiar story from a different place.
We doubt; we fear; we lash out; we grieve; we give in to anxiety; we become impatient. Sometimes God calls us to places of silence and stillness so that internal tranformation — God and human alone — can begin. Most times, however, we need community. We are created for it.
When we come together, it can sure be one heck of a mess, eh? (I'm Canadian; let me have just one!)
Our communal fears, doubts, griefs, losses and hatreds can create mob justice or paralysis. We become stuck in places that we can't get out of with no end in sight. Sometimes it drives me batty how some of my youth treat one another: gangsta. It's about pride; it's about RESPECT.
Respect is big.
And if one person disrespects another, that other takes every right to gather up friends and family and "do what's right".
Except it isn't right.
Everything from online bullying and threats to stalking to vandalism to bodily harm. Sometimes these fueds go on for generations! I can't wrap my mind around it. Father Greg Boyle has been immensely helpful in this area. I might not be part of gangsta society, but I sure know how God's kindship trumps any kind of forced respect we rob from others.
That being said, when we come together (even with grief, doubt, and pain), our communal responses can create a light so bright that it ignites spirits long since cold. Hope is rekindled. Tears are shed, embraces are shared, understanding is met with listening and vice versa, and uplighting laughter brings life to barren places.
When we have joys to share, look out! Dancing in the streets, my friends. Dancing in the streets!
I have to admit, I'm not always practiced at the joy part. It's not something that comes naturally to me. And with the "happiness is the most important thing" craze clogging up social media and bookstore shelves, I think we often confuse happiness for true joy. It's even further obscured.
Sometimes joy get drained of power and depth. We turn it into sunshine and roses, and the humanity in me screams "No!"
There is no space for true darkness and hopelessness to be revealed. We can't be joyful unless we are aware, to the best of our abilities, of our deepest pains. The rest is usually fluff. Not always, but often.
"We should not be surprised at the divine consideration in having this young girl and this old woman wait together for the fulfillment of God's respective words to them. God exists within a holy community: the Trinity. God's self is a thriving community, and God created us to flourish in our interconnectedness and mutual support of one another" (Okoro, p.67).
Even though Mary was young and Elizabeth was old (whatever 'old' meant back then), they both were going through a plethora of firsts: first spotting, first cramping, first quickenings, first belly swellings, first cravings, first changes in hair follicles, and first community responses: good or bad. Each would have some fears the other could relate to; each would have some timely advice for the other to absorb; and each would have known some anxiety about "What next?" that they could talk about.
I wonder what the families in Pakistan are doing tonight? How are they coming together after over a hundred students were shot?
A woman sat in my office today who had very recently lost a son in a highway traffic accident. That alone is enough to break anyone's spirit — her grief is very great. But that is not the end of her story. It involves more pain, more terror, more loss… when will it end for her? Where's her community?
Another woman came in for a Christmas hamper and told me she'd just found out she was pregnant again. With a wide smile and deep satisfaction, the immediate situation of a lack of food barely made it to our conversation. She was simply joyful over the news. What kind of community is coming around her to celebrate?
Okoro is wise to say that we need to discern whom we gather with during times of great transformation and change. Critical thinking and deep questions ought to an open part of who we are, but there are times when our faith requires a touch… a handhold… someone with like experience… empathy. All too easily can we tear down a fledgling faith by being too candid about our ideologies at the wrong time.
May we all find someone this season whose presence suddenly awakens our spirits.
Until tomorrow, Henri,